Yesterday it was suggested in comments that I was mischaracterizing or exaggerating the emphasis by the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama Administrations on higher education. I don’t think I am and I’ll give three quick examples.
PRINCETON, N.J. (AllPolitics, June 4) — President Bill Clinton, in a commencement talk at Princeton University today, proposed a tax break to finance two years of post-high school education. (224K WAV sound)
“It’s America’s most basic bargain,” Clinton told the graduating seniors. “We’ll help create opportunity if you’ll take responsibility.”
Administration officials say the president wants to “make clear that two years of college should be as universal as high school.”
We must ensure that older students and adults can gain the skills they need to find work now. Many of the fastest- growing occupations require strong math and science preparation and training beyond the high-school level. So tonight I propose a series of measures called Jobs for the 21st Century. This program will provide extra help to middle- and high-school students who fall behind in reading and math, expand Advanced Placement programs in low-income schools, invite math and science professionals from the private sector to teach part-time in our high schools.
I propose larger Pell Grants for students who prepare for college with demanding courses in high school. I propose increasing support for America’s fine community colleges, so they can train workers for industries that are creating the most new jobs. By all these actions, we will help more and more Americans to join in the growing prosperity of our country.
I’ve called for doubling our exports within the next five years, so that we’re not just buying from other countries, I want us to sell to other countries. We’ve talked about doubling our nation’s capacity to generate renewable energy by 2012, because I’m actually convinced that if we control the clean energy future, then our economic future will be bright — building solar panels and wind turbines and biodiesel. And I want us to produce 8 million more college graduates by 2020, because America has to have the highest share of graduates compared to every other nation.
But, Texas, I want you to know we have been slipping. In a single generation, we’ve fallen from first place to 12th place in college graduation rates for young adults. Think about that. In one generation we went from number one to number 12.
Now, that’s unacceptable, but it’s not irreversible. We can retake the lead. If we’re serious about making sure America’s workers — and America itself — succeeds in the 21st century, the single most important step we can take is make — is to make sure that every one of our young people — here in Austin, here in Texas, here in the United States of America — has the best education that the world has to offer. That’s the number one thing we can do.
Now, when I talk about education, people say, well, you know what, right now we’re going through this tough time. We’ve emerged from the worst recession since the Great Depression. So, Mr. President, you should only focus on jobs, on economic issues. And what I’ve tried to explain to people — I said this at the National Urban League the other week — education is an economic issue. Education is the economic issue of our time.
It’s an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have gone to college. Education is an economic issue when nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of this decade. Education is an economic issue when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that countries that out-educate us today, they will out-compete us tomorrow.
The emphasis in each instance is mine. That’s not cherry-picking on my part. I just produced the first relevant quotes I could find. I could produce thousands of others and references to dozens of pieces of legislation over the period of the last two decades. I think it’s clear from the context that all three men are emphasizing the importance of higher education, something that’s not borne out by the facts.
I attribute this misunderstanding on their part to ignorance of statistics. They know that the average salary of college graduates is higher and conclude that higher education raises salaries, not understanding the the very high wages of a very small number of (mostly subsidized) professionals distorts the figures.